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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Asian Works of Art > Decorative Arts > Ceramics > Chinese Porcelain: History and Value

Differences Between Chinese and Japanese Porcelain

Chinese Sculpture

Chinese Snuff Bottles

Chinese Dynasty Names

Japanese Pottery

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1950s Tableware
Art Deco Coffee Sets
Art Deco European Figurines
Art Pottery
Wedgwood Black Basalte or Basalt
Biedermeier porcelain and ceramics
Victorian Breakfast China
Breakfast China
Repairing Broken China
Fixing Broken China
Chamber Pots
Character Jugs
Cheese Dishes
Identifying China
Chinese Porcelain
Cow Creamers
Cream Jugs
Wedgewood Cream Ware (creamware)
Danish China - Royal Copenhagen Factory
Danish Table China - Royal Copenhagen Factory
Derby Figures
Dinner Service
Doulton Figures
English Majolica ceramics
English porcelain and ceramics
Conta and Boehme Fairings
French Sevres Porcelain
French Porcelain
Goss Ware ceramics
Jugendstil Pottery
Mantelpiece Garnitures
Martin Brothers Pottery
Mason's Ironstone
Victorian Meat Plates
Mending Broken China
Noritake China
Oriental Porcelain
Wedgwood Pearlware
Pot Pourri vases and jars
Identifying Pottery
Pottery Marks
Collecting Salt and Pepper Shakers
Satsuma Pottery
Sevres Porcelain
Staffordshire Figures
Wade Whimsies
Collecting Wall Plates
Wedgewood Jasper Ware
West Country Art Pottery
Willow Pattern China
Worchester Porcelain

The lasting brilliance of an ancient art

A painted pottery jar, circa 25-220.

A painted pottery jar, circa 25-220.

The Chinese are credited with the invention of porcelain a process of evolving from pottery to stoneware, and eventually to porcelain that took approximately 1,000 years.
Thought to have appeared in the 4th century during the Jin Dynasty, true porcelain was crafted of clay, petunse (or China stone), and water, and fired at temperatures at or above 1250 Celsius.
Each piece of Chinese porcelain was created by a team of artisans, and depending upon the complexity of decoration, fired two or three times in the kiln.
Chinese porcelain falls into one of two classifications, either Imperial (official pieces made for the emperor or for his court for ritual use, decoration, or gifts to foreign dignitaries) or popular ware (utilitarian pieces for the table or for decoration in the home).
Whatever the Dynasty, be it Sung, Ming, or Qing, imperial porcelain is the most desirable to high-end and knowledgeable collectors.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) represents both the apex and the decline of Chinese porcelain. Perfection of glaze and form were achieved during the Yong Zheng period (early Qing Dynasty, 1723-1735), and the height of technical perfection was realized in the Qianlong period (1735-1795).
This period saw a burst of breakthroughs (including improved clay and techniques); artistic creativity resulting in new mixtures and vibrancy of colors; some new vessel shapes (including more boxes); and the introduction of molded decorations on porcelain. Vases became reticulated, oversized, and more highly painted landscape scenes were in evidence. This all coincided with a newfound artistic freedom in Jingdezhen, the city where the imperial factories were located from 1402 on, supplying porcelain to the courts for 500 years.

A Qianlong Chinese Export tureen, circa 1760.

A Qianlong Chinese Export
tureen, circa 1760.

During Qianlong's reign, everything became bigger, brighter and more impressive. Unfortunately, this era of improvement got out of hand. Qianlong became ill five years before the end of his reign, and Chinese porcelain underwent a gradual decline artistically, becoming more flamboyant and beginning to lose its real value.
This market has risen dramatically, and continues to do so. Chinese porcelain is a very mature area, similar to American furniture. The audience doesn't change much; it's a very narrow, specialized field, and unlike most art markets, these people often don't collect anything else. Imperial Chinese porcelain will always command an audience.
Shapes remained fairly constant over the millennia; the classic Chinese vase, bowl and meiping (plum blossom vase, introduced during the Sung Dynasty) continue to the present day. Still, shape and color can help to identify a piece with a particular period. Certain colors are highly prized, and some design motifs are known to convey symbolic meaning (such as cranes representing immortality, or bats symbolizing happiness).
While some pieces are easily identifiable, the difficulty with identifying Chinese ceramics is that you must know everything that goes into making a particular piece right for its period. Shape, color and design motif, glaze, weight, foot, reign mark if there is one all come into play. Other than clues from shape and color, you really have to handle the piece. The weight is an important clue to the educated collector.
As for fakes, the Chinese did make things in reverence of earlier emperors, but didn't necessarily go out of their way to fake things. There aren't a lot of pieces made to deceive... though a novice might unknowingly pass on a reproduction as an authentic piece.

It's quite rare to find good Chinese porcelain in an antique store. Most collectors deal with the larger auction houses or with individual galleries in the United States, Europe, and Hong Kong. Though there is a large market for imperial porcelain in China, they don't have the established galleries.

Ross Kerr's helpful reference.

Collectors of Chinese ceramics are perfectionists and the most important thing is the condition. A technically perfect, beautifully glazed imperial piece in rough condition can fetch one tenth the value of the same piece in perfect condition.
Hairline cracks are considered as bad as chips, and restoration is definitely frowned upon (except by some collectors of the later export ware).
For references, we recommend:


Click here to view the Royal Doulton site

Chinese Export Porcelain, Standard Patterns and Forms, 1780-1880: Standard Patterns and Forms by Herbert

Chinese Export Porcelain in the 19th Century: The Canton Famille Rose Porcelains by John Quentin Feller

Chinese Potter: A Practical History of Chinese Ceramics
by Margaret Medley

Mounted Oriental Porcelain in the J. Paul Getty Museum
by Gillian Wilson

For the Imperial Court: Qing Porcelain from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art
by Rosemary Scott

Spode's Willow Pattern
by Robert Copeland

Special Exhibition of Ch'Ing Dynasty Enameled Porcelain of Imperial Ateliers / Written in English & Chinese

The Copeland Collection : Chinese and Japanese Ceramic Figures
by William Sargent

The Helen D. Ling Collection of Chinese Ceramics
by Jason Kuo

Chinese Ceramics: Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911
by Rose Kerr

Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain Around the World
by John Carswell

Antique Trader's Pottery & Porcelain Ceramics Price Guide
by Kyle Husfloen

Collectors Encyclopedia of Nippon Poreclain: Identification & Values
by Joan Van Patten

Collector's Encyclopedia of Flow Blue China: Values Updated 2000 (Second Series)
by Mary Frank Gaston

Restaurant China: Identification & Value Guide for Restaurant, Airline, Ship & Railroad Dinnerware
by Barbara Conroy

Warman's American Pottery & Porcelain
by Al Bagdade

Royal Doulton
by Julie McKewon